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Lecture explores ancient shipwreck in Florida

underwater photo
October 05, 2010

Imagine the surprise of scuba divers who came upon a partially-buried 450-year old shipwreck in the shallow, warm waters of Pensacola Bay, Florida. Their excitement increased at discovering that the contents of the ship's lower hull were amazingly well-preserved. What treasures and riches did they find?

For these divers, who were scientists from the Bureau of Archaeological Research with the Florida Department of State, the bounty was that the ancient ship was one of the three larger galleons from the fleet of Spanish Conquistador Tristan de Luna's ill-fated Florida expedition of 1559.

According to state underwater archaeologist Roger Smith, "It's not what you find, it's what you find out."

Smith will present those findings at the Central Arizona Society of the Archaeological Institute of America lecture, "Florida's Earliest Shipwreck: Exploring Tristan de Luna's Lost Galleon." The lecture will take place at 6 p.m. on Oct. 6 in room 216 of the Business Administration building, C-wing, on the Tempe campus.

"There are wonderful natural and cultural things to be found in the sea. If we are not vigilant and careful, they can be easily disturbed or destroyed, and we lose precious knowledge about ourselves and the world around us," said Smith in an e-mail interview.

AZAIA vice-president Almira Poudrier agrees. "Archaeology is about us. It's about understanding human behavior, customs, and history through the things we surround ourselves with, and the things we leave behind," she said.

Poudrier is a lecturer in the School of International Letters and Cultures, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She sees archaeology as a natural fit to her doctoral degree in Classics.

"Material culture is an important part of understanding any culture, ancient or modern. [Material] items illustrate culture in a visual and tactile fashion. Archaeology does that for ancient cultures, and it has long been an integral part of scholarship in Classics," she said.

Excavations of the Luna shipwreck have revealed an array of colonial artifacts, as well as faunal and botanical specimens, that present a fascinating portrait of Spain's attempt to secure a foothold on the frontier of its American empire. The galleon was one of eleven ships under Luna's command that embarked to establish a colony on the shores of Florida. Aboard the ships were more than 1,500 soldiers, settlers, and servants equipped with livestock, agricultural and construction tools.

The colonists disembarked at Pensacola, but before they were able to unloaded their supplies, a hurricane hit and destroyed all but three of the ships anchored in the harbor. The catastrophe doomed the Luna colony, which was eventually abandoned in 1561.

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